Looking like the bizarre lovechild of a bolt-action rifle, a boat oar, and those weird prop rifles from the original Planet of the Apes movie, the Thorneycroft Carbine is one of the unsung “firsts” of the 20th Century. Specifically, this British repeater is the world’s first military bullpup rifle. Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons gives us a real-time look at one of the Thorneycroft prototypes, located at the Royal Armouries museum:
We’ve mentioned the Thorneycroft Carbine before on The Firearm Blog: It was Number 10 on our list of Ten 20th Century Military Rifles History Has Forgotten, along with such rifles as the AR-1, the first Armalite rifle, and the Sudaev AS-44, a WWII-era Russian assault rifle (but not the only one!). The Thorneycroft mentioned in the video is actually a Thorneycroft-Farquhar, which is a later, improved design versus the very original Thorneycroft of 1901. One key difference between the two is that the Thorneycroft-Farquhar lacks the unique inclined action of the original.
One question our readers may be asking at this point is: Why weren’t bullpups invented earlier? Well, for once, we have a question with a simple answer! The bullpup action is simply impractical with early external ignition firearms designs (e.g., flintlocks), as the amount of debris and flash that is spewed into the air during firing is enough to pose a very real hazard to the firer even in the usual position. You wouldn’t want a shower of smoke and sparks going off right next to your face! Therefore, the bullpup itself would have to wait until the invention of internal ignition weapons, that is to say, cartridge firing breechloaders.